Illinois Fil-Am judge pleads ‘not guilty’ to mortgage fraud charge
CHICAGO—The first Filipino American elected judge in Illinois pleaded not guilty April 26 and she wants a speedy trial.
Judge Jessica Arong O’Brien appeared at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse to be arraigned by US Federal Judge Sheila Finnegan.
O’Brien, 49, allowed herself to be photographed, fingerprinted and swabbed for DNA by authorities, according to her attorney, Ricardo Meza, who referred to his client as “respected member of her community.”
O’Brien was indicted by a federal grand jury for mortgage fraud April 12. She was removed from the Cook County First Circuit Court as a judge for the small-claims court and was transferred to non-judicial work.
An executive review board headed by Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans with 17 Cook County judges as members, will later decide if O’Brien be removed as a judge.
O’Brien, who was elected unopposed in 2012, is married to Atty. Brendan O’Brien who was also elected unopposed as Cook County judge in the last November elections. The couple has three daughters.
Her indictment, which was carried by major news outlets, stated that O’Brien and a fellow defendant, Maria Bartko, 49, allegedly concealed relevant facts from lenders including Citibank, New Century Mortgage Corp. and First Magnus Financial Corp. to obtain more than $1.4 million in mortgages on two investment properties in Chicago that she and Bartko had purchased in 2004 and sold in 2007.
While O’Brien was working, then, as a special assistant attorney general for the Illinois Department of Revenue, she also reportedly held the position of chief counsel to the Illinois Lottery. She also worked as a part-time loan officer at Amronbanc Mortgage Corporation in Lincolnwood, Illinois where Bartko was a loan originator.
At the same time, the future judge also owned O’Brien Realty, LLC, where the indictment alleged, she falsely stated in her application that she had a profit of $100,000. In addition, she falsely stated that she made $6,800 a month as an Illinois Department of Revenue attorney.
Further, federal prosecutors alleged that she and Bartko omitted in their application for a $260,000 loan that they owed on another property they had previously bought.
O’Brien and Bartko were charged with one count of mail fraud affecting a financial institution. Prosecutors alleged that O’Brien mailed a check for $297,208.96 via UPS to Chase Bank in relation to their scheme to defraud—a federal offense.
O’Brien was also charged with one count of bank fraud resulting from O’Brien’s false loan declarations that caused Citibank to give her a $72,000 loan for the purchase of one of the investment properties cited in her case against them—another federal violation, according to the prosecutors. Their statement in the indictment indicated that each carries a punishment of up to 30 years in prison.
O’Brien came from Cebu to America at the age of 16. She has a bachelor’s degree in hotel and food administration from Boston University. She landed a top managerial position with a multinational company supervising thousands of employees involved in food preparation.
In 2008, she decided to change her career and later earned a Masters of Laws in Employee Benefits and Taxation from the John Marshall Law School in Chicago. She became the first Asian American president of the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois in 2015.